Senate Moves to Regulate Social Media Use Proposes three-year jail term for offenders

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Deji Elumoye in Abuja

The Senate has begun moves to regulate the social media use in Nigeria, as a bill to that effect is already before the upper legislative chamber.

The bill titled: ‘Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019’, sponsored by a first-time Senator, Mohammed Musa, which was one of the 11 bills read at plenary for the first time, stipulates a maximum penalty of three-year jail term for offenders.

Shedding more light on the bill after plenary wednesday, Musa said if the bill is passed, it would curb the spread of fake news on the internet.

He stressed that the bill is for “patriotic Nigerians” who want to see the country live in peace, adding that with the advent of social media, there is a reason for Nigeria to see how this new media is tolerated.

The senator wondered why an individual would decide to remain in his room or office and then write something he knows very well is false because he wants to hit at someone.

“He or she will decide to write and post it on social media. Waiting few seconds, it’s on there! Before you know it, it has been shared all over the world. I have a passion for information technology (IT), and I know what it takes to disseminate your information-it is like the speed of light,” Musa said. The senator noted that the bill was not an attempt to gag the social media users or right to free press “but a legislation that will guide how we can tolerate our activities on the social media.”

According to him, false information has been disseminated so many times, and has caused chaos in different parts of the world, citing examples of the spread of fake news on the internet during the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa.

The lawmaker said: “I felt we need it (law) in this country. If countries like Philippines, Singapore, Italy, Malaysia, Australia, France, Indonesia, Egypt are putting control to prevent the spread of false information, what stops us from doing it? There has never been a time when Nigeria has been very fragile in terms of its unity than this period.

“This is not to stop the people from assessing the internet to do whatever they feel legitimately is okay to do, but what we felt is wrong is for you to use the medium to document information that you know is false, just because you want to achieve your interest.

“If one commits an offence of this nature, and by the virtue of what was committed, the law enforcement agencies will take the person to court, as there will be a court process that will prove that the person has done something wrong. It will serve as deterrence to others, and there should be certain penalties.”

The senator further said: “If you can disseminate information of your president by taking his picture and putting it in an invitation card, giving false information of your President, which is the highest office in the land, that is unlawful.”

The provisions of the bill, according to the legislator, include provisions for penalties. “If anyone runs afoul of the law, he or she should cough out between N150,000 and a maximum imprisonment of three years or both. And if it is a corporate organisation that refuses to block that false information despite the fact that it has been alerted by authorities not to disseminate that information for public interest, it should be penalised between N5 million to N10 million,” he said.

An old bill titled: ‘A Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith’ was sponsored by the then Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, and sought to compel critics to accompany their petitions with sworn court affidavit or face six months imprisonment upon conviction.

The bill had stated inter alia: “Any person who unlawfully uses, publishes or causes to be published any petition, complaint not supported by a duly sworn affidavit, shall be deemed to have committed an offence, and upon conviction, shall be liable to an imprisonment for six months without an option of fine.”

The bill passed the second reading before President Muhammadu Buhari distanced himself from it, saying he was committed to free speech.